Board of Directors
- Tung Bach Ly, Interim Chairman
- Diana Pei Wu, Ph.D., Board Member
- Cassandra Tran, Board Member
- Mike Trong Nguyen, J.D., Secretary
- Nailah Ricco, J.D., Board Member
- Mimi-Cristien Nguyen, Board Member
- Thandor Miller, Board Member
- Tom Costanza, Board Member
Minh Nguyen / Founder & Executive Director
Minh Nguyen is the founder and executive director of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO), a youth-led community-based organization dedicated to youth organizing and youth empowerment.
As a second generation Vietnamese American, born and raised as in New Orleans, Minh has dedicated his life to giving voice to the Asian American community in the Gulf Coast region. His long-term advocacy and organizing efforts have invigorated the political energy of the Vietnamese youth in New Orleans to unite, fight, and protect their communities from government-inflicted environmental injustices, such as negligible flood protections planning, water contamination, and the conversion of their largely African American and Vietnamese American community into a toxic dumpsite. His collaboration with youth organizers in education has blocked English-only policy initiatives from passing in Terrebonne Parish High School. Through his tenacious leadership, the first youth center in Village de l’Est opened in 2007, which currently serves as a hub for youth-focused leadership development and youth-led community organizing activities in this still under-resourced area of New Orleans. In 2008, Minh engaged college and high school students in electoral politics through his coordination of a voter mobilization drive that aimed to enfranchise the Vietnamese American vote in the critical November election cycle.
Minh graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a double major in management and marketing. His leadership as a student includes his services as the External Vice President of the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Association (UNAVSA) and the Executive Director of the UNAVSA Fourth Annual North American Vietnamese Student Conference.
MK Nguyen / Deputy Director
MK Nguyen joined VAYLA in October 2011 as the new Deputy Director. Her purpose at VAYLA is to strengthen VAYLA’s advocacy and organizing frameworks and to new create new opportunities for community engagement and leadership cultivation in the areas of health, environmental justice, and open and participatory governance.
Her interest is to work with others to improve the conditions of poor and working class people of color and immigrant communities in New Orleans, through shifting the resources and mindset of the city towards securing the rights of all people to have access to quality education, good jobs with living wages, quality and affordable healthcare, community-based planning and political self-determination within open and democratic city governance, affordable and quality public transportation, healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, and to safe and affordable housing in their city.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity from Saint Catherine University, in St. Paul, Minnesota and a Master of Arts in Equity and Social Justice in Education from San Francisco State University.
Dianna Hong / Administrative Director
General Education Development (GED) Program
English Second Language (ESL) Program
Vietnamese Second Language (VSL) Program
Dianna Hong Nguyen has lived in New Orleans for the last 36 years. Her family was one of the first Vietnamese families to reside in New Orleans in 1975 after the Vietnam War. After she was very effective as an administrative assistance at a local elementary school in New Orleans east, she joined VAYLA-NO as an administrator.
After a year of reflection and given an opportunity with hands-on experience with tutoring the GED to people ranging from 18 to 50, Dianna is an advocate of the GED program. She urges people to never give up on themselves. Her dedication and genuine love for education will guide the young adults to achieve their dreams.
Her goal is not only to be a dedicated staff member overseeing the administrative area of VAYLA-NO but also to tutor and prepare people for the GED test. She encourages all the people, who for whatever reason during their adolescent life have dropped out of high school to come to VAYLA-NO to prepare them to receive the GED certificate.
Huong Nguyen / Outreach & Youth Program Coordinator
Young Womyn’s Leadership Program
Volunteer Opportunities/ Cultural Events
VAYLA Social: Sports Tournament & Entertainment Showcase
Huong T. Nguyen became an active member of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO) in 2006 and became a staff in 2008. She was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from the University of New Orleans in 2012, where she majored in Business Marketing and is currently pursuing her Masters in Occupational Therapy.
She is the founder and Program Coordinator of the Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP). She empowered young women to start playing flag football in her community and was able to encourage VAYLA Annual Social Youth Sports Tournament to establish the first ever female sport that was male-dominated. At VAYLA, Huong facilitates bi-weekly general meetings for members as well as create the bi-weekly vlogs, newsletters, and outreach materials.
Huong was awarded the 2009 Service Leader/Youth Ally Change Maker Award from the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps and she was also the 2nd Runner Up in the 2009 ASPIRE Outstanding Woman of the Year Award.
Her goals are to create a safe space for women of the community as well as empower young women into leaders.
Chris Sang / Communications & Media Director
Chris joined VAYLA in November 2012. Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, Chris has spent the last several years in Chicago, Illinois, working in partnership with communities to tackle the systemic social nd health disparities affecting them. He has been responsible for directing comprehensive initiatives that took youth-led preventative approaches to addressing violence, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and childhood obesity. Chris is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in Africana Studies and Political Science.
As the Raise Your Hand Campaign’s Media & Communications Director, Chris supports VAYLA staff and student leaders in crafting stories about their education equity campaigns, using the power of media to amplify youth voices in education policy and decision-making. He focuses on media outreach, developing media trainings, and managing the RYHC website.
Chris is excited about working with youth and community leaders in New Orleans to build a movement that transforms the educational system to one that truly serves students and families.
Cristi Wijngaarde / Community Organizer
Youth Organizing Unity (YOU2)
Originally from Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Cristi has been in New Orleans, LA for the past 25 years. Working on community issues has been her lifelong passion. She has worked for the local school system for the past 8 years, she has served as the Vice President of the Head Start Policy Council, and she enjoys volunteering with the Cub Scouts of America.
Cristi joined VAYLA in February of 2012. She coordinates YOU2 (Youth Organizing Unity 2), a youth-led program that focuses on protecting the educational rights of immigrant students and parents by addressing the absence of translation, interpretation, and English Language Learner programs at New Orleans schools. Through the “Lost in the System” campaign, YOU2 promotes ESL rights for students that need assistance with learning the English language and prevent them from being treated unfairly. Cristi is the founder of LOS MUNDO UNIDOS, a community group that empowers undocumented Latino families.
Cristi is committed to working with limited English families on their rights for a better education system.
Julie Juarez / Education Equity Organizer
Julie Juarez joined VAYLA in November 2012 as the Educational Equity Youth Organizer working with the Reed Renaissance Initiative. Julie is a second generation Mexican American who was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chican@-Latin@ Studies and Spanish. Julie’s work is influenced by her experience within immigrant communities.
At Pomona, Julie worked as an Educational Outreach Coordinator at the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and was a part of Workers for Justice, a worker-led movement to increase wages and health benefits for Pomona College dining hall workers.
At VAYLA she hopes to continue working toward youth empowerment, social and educational equity, and community voice.
Erica Buher / Youth Development Director
Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship Program
VAYLA’s Summer Program
Erica Buher joined VAYLA in October 2012 as the Youth Development Coordinator. Prior to this, Erica worked as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, focusing on foreign relations, homeland security, and defense. Erica became passionate about social justice as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in African Studies and Political Science. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors for ATRAVES, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Barrio Camilo Ortega, an impoverished neighborhood in Managua, Nicaragua.
In this capacity, she supports the Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship program and VAYLA’s Organizing Training Institute.
Erica’s other passions include Paulo Freire, baked goods, and puppies.
Timmy Vo / Health Outreach Coordinator
Thank VAYLA It’s Friday (TVIF)
A Trail to a Healthy Community
Timmy Vo became an active member of VAYLA-NO in 2007 and became a staff in 2012. He was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and graduated from Xavier University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree of Chemistry/Pre-Med. He dedicated his time outreaching to young people locally and nationally through various student organizations such as Xavier University Asian Association (XUAA), Asian American Student Intercollegiate Association (AASIA), and Union of North American Vietnamese Student Association (UNAVSA).
Timmy outreaches to young people through social media about available health programs at VAYLA and other supportive services in the community that focuses on improving immediate and long-term psychological health of young people. He focuses on raising awareness of wellness and self-care through his community health forums and Family Circle, a peer-to-peer support group program that allows young people in the community to share and listen their personal stories. He also connects the community to develop the Trail to a Healthy Community project, implementing healthy trails to encourage community members to be more involved through recreation, connectivity, and beautification in the community.
His goal is to provide opportunities for young people to improve their physical, mental, and environmental well-being and to motivate them to become positive young leaders in the community.
Leah Effron / Education Equity Coordinator
Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship
ESL for Youth and Adults
Leah joined VAYLA in 2013 as the Education Program Coordinator. At VAYLA, Leah leads interactive ESL classes for adults and youth, supports the Margaret Xuan Dung Fellowship and the Young Womyns Leadership Program, helps youth formulate and achieve their academic goals, and is working toward a VAYLA Wellness Initiative.
Leah graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts where she studied Community Health and Child Development. Having worked with young people in school gardens and on farms in Boston, she is drawn to the academic and social-emotional learning that can result from working outside. She is passionate about the power of connection among community members to promote empowerment and enduring positive change.
Leah is excited to be working at VAYLA through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.